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“We are judged by how we finish, not how we start.”

How true. Some people are so worried about whether or not they’ll be able to finish a project that they hesitate to begin anything. I confess to being one of those. Partly, it’s because I tend to perfectionism. Please understand that perfectionism doesn’t mean that everything I do meets that high standard, but it’s what I wish I could attain. Through my life, I’ve had to make choices about where to spend my energy and focus, a fight against perfectionism. (Dusting the furniture was something that lost out!)

My husband is a starter. He loves to jump into a project and get it going. He doesn’t usually worry about finishing at that stage. I, on the other hand, am afraid to start something in case I won’t be able to finish it. The result: I talk myself out of a lot of things that might be good if I trusted myself. I have to say my husband and I have rubbed off on each other over the years. I’m more willing to try something, and he’s more intent on completing a project.

As a writer, I’ve learned that first words aren’t crucial at the outset. It’s the act of beginning that’s important. First words can be changed, edited, tweaked, or stricken from the record! They are only a starting point, a thought-bullet fired in a specific direction. The more important aspect is following through, completing a task to the best of our abilities.

We’re on a journey through this life, and our paths are not complete until our number is called. Let’s give each day our all, with the help of the God who created us do the things He has prepared in advance for us to do.

 

NOTE: For as long as I can remember, our household has regularly received The Furrow magazine, a farming publication published by Deere & Company. My favourite part of this magazine is the next-to-last page, titled fun & Philosophy, a collection of jokes, quotes from famous people, and capsule sermons. From these I’ve chosen a few as conversation starters for my blogspot. Thought-bullets.

 

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By the time this blog appears live, I will have been and gone to my favourite annual writer’s conference: InScribe. It’s a treat I look forward to every year, and this one’s accessible; I can drive there or ride with a friend.

Conferences are superb confidence boosters, in that our association with other writers helps us to believe we really are writers too.

Conferences are comfortable places for introverts to network! We’re most of us—but certainly not all—introverted types that gather at writing conferences. We spend a lot of our time in solitary, with only our computers as companions, and mostly, we’re okay with that. But from time to time we need more than virtual input. A conference is a time when we can reach out to others who understand our boundaries. Maybe we can find someone who can fill a gap in our writing life: a story editor, a cover designer, a formatter. And just maybe we can fill a gap in someone else’s writing needs as well.

Conferences are memory makers. We meet people we’ve met before and renew our acquaintance. We meet people we’ve never met before, and often our personalities will click. Or we meet people we’ve heard of but never met, and find out they are accessible and normal folks. We feel surrounded by friends of like mind.

If there’s a conference in your area, save up your bucks through the year and take advantage of it. You won’t regret it.

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JAN: How long have you been writing and how did you come to it?

EMILY: I’ve been writing since I was five years old. My first piece of work was a short play that I made my grandma act out with me over and over until we both had the lines memorized. I think only a grandma could have been that patient.

JAN: Who are some of the people who most influenced your decision to write?

EMILY: I don’t know that I exactly decided to write so much as being a writer is who I was. But I have had some major cheerleaders who kept me from giving up. I already told you about the early support from one of my grandmas, but my other grandma always loved my writing and told me how I made pictures with my words. Even once she was declared legally blind, she used her electronic reader to read the books in my Maple Syrup Mysteries. My parents paid for probably my first five writer’s conferences when I couldn’t afford to send myself, and my husband now copy edits all my books for me.

 

 

JAN: Sounds like a lot of great support. What’s your preferred genre?

EMILY: I love mysteries because of the puzzle to solve. When I’m reading a mystery or watching one on TV, I’m always trying to figure it out before the reveal. As a writer, I want to play fair—so the reader could figure it out—and yet keep everyone guessing until the end with interesting twists and reveals.

JAN: Why do you write?

EMILY: I like to joke that I write because I didn’t want to stop playing make-believe when I grew up. The truth is more that I feel God gave me the ability to write, and I want to use the talents He gave me to serve Him.

JAN: How and where do you write? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

EMILY: Where I write depends on the season. Canadian winters aren’t conducive to writing outside, so I write at the kitchen table. (We’re moving soon and then I’ll have a dedicated office!) In the summers, though, we have a screened-in area where I can write in the fresh air and breeze without fighting off mosquitos or flies. That’s my favorite spot to write.

I’ve also spent a lot of time writing in hospitals and doctor’s offices. People looked at me sideways, but if I hadn’t been willing to work in the time I had, I wouldn’t have been able to put out the number of books I’ve put out in the last two years.

I write my first draft on an AlphaSmart Neo because it’s a dedicated word processor that keeps me away from distractions. I’m also learning Dragon dictation, and I hope that’ll speed things up for me.

I’m a hardcore plotter. I tried pantsing a novel (I won’t reveal which one in my series), and not only did it take me three times as long to write, but it was my least popular book. Not fun.

JAN: Been there, done that! I need to plot too. Where do you get your ideas? What inspires you?

EMILY: A lot of my story ideas start with the murder situation or motive. In my book Tapped Out, for example, I wanted to do a locked-room style mystery where the murderer would have had to walk by my main character’s client and kill his wife within earshot of him. It added two levels—was her client being honest and how was this possible? The book I’m working on right now, Sugar and Vice, started with the question “Why would someone want to kill a hundred-year-old man at his own birthday party?” Those sorts of naturally-intriguing ideas make it fun for me to write the books.

My inspiration comes from all over—things I see in the news, something I’ve read when I’m studying murder methods (yeah, weird, but a hazard of the trade), or something that’s actually happened. In all those situations, real life is only a jumping off point. From there, I start asking “But what if?” Sugar and Viceis a good example again. My grandpa recently turned 90. Leading up to his birthday, he always talks about how old he’ll be and how he’s lived the longest of anyone in his family. That started me wondering.

JAN: How do you research and how do you know you can trust your sources?

EMILY: I use a combination of books and the internet to research. When I was writing my Maple Syrup Mysteries, I also talked to people who’d worked a maple syrup farm. I try to stick to scholarly or government sources whenever possible, or sources that have an acknowledged reputation for accuracy. If I’m not sure about the credibility of the source, then I try to make sure I can confirm the information from multiple sources.

This is less important in some genres than others, though. I have to do my best to get details right about causes of death, but my genre (cozy mystery) expects the sleuth to have a level of involvement within the case that a normal person wouldn’t ever be allowed to have. So I think it’s important to get right what you can, but to also understand where the tropes of your genre allow you some leeway.

JAN: What do you like most / least about writing?

EMILY: Often I like the actual writing part the least. I like coming up with ideas and characters, and I like having written, but I’m not sure I like the actual writing.

JAN: I understand completely! Writing takes so much determination and concentration. What are some of the best methods of promoting your work?

EMILY: I’ve used advertising almost exclusively, particularly newsletters that advertise 99-cent sales and Amazon Marketing Services. I’ve also given away a lot of my free prequel novella through Instafreebie and multi-author events.

But here’s my philosophy about promoting. The best practices are always changing. What worked for me might not work for anyone else. The best thing to do is to experiment, and always work on building a list and then building relationships with the people on that list.

JAN: Thank you for that candid response. I agree it’s not a one-method-fits-all deal. What are your favorite / most effective social media?

EMILY: None. Social media isn’t a priority for me, and I don’t like it much. I do have a Facebook page, but I might post a couple of times a month.

JAN: That’s honest, and plays on your answer to my previous question. How do you balance professional time with personal time?

EMILY: Sunday is the Sabbath. I don’t work on Sunday. That time is set aside for church, and then for rest and spending time with my family or friends.

During the week, it’s always hard to find the balance. Because this is my full-time career, I try to make sure my days are spent on professional activities. My family needs my income to survive. My job isn’t a nice bonus income. It’s a necessity.

That said, life rarely runs smoothly. Over 2016, I missed over three months of work due to medical appointments/needs. I work at times when most people wouldn’t—like in ER waiting rooms—because sometimes I have to in order to both be there for the people I love and still earn a living.

JAN: What are you currently reading? Do you prefer digital or print?

EMILY: I have about three books on the go right now—one writing business book (Newsletter Ninjaby Tammi Labrecque), a Christian theology book, and a not-yet-released cozy mystery by Heather Day Gilbert called Belinda Blake and the Snake in the Grass.

I’m definitely a digital girl. My Kindle fits so nicely in my purse, and it’s lighter in my hands than most books. I’ve been reading more since I got it than I did before because of the convenience.

JAN: What are some of your favorite things? What makes you unique?

EMILY: My favorite activities are painting, board games, and walking. I also love to bake.

What makes me unique is probably my propensity to adopt stray cats. We have seven right now. Some people take vacations. My husband and I take in strays. We find a lot of joy in rescuing frightened, sickly creatures, nursing them back to health, and giving them a safe home.

JAN: What keeps you going in your writing career?

EMILY: I like to eat and pay my electricity bill so I can take hot showers—just kidding. A couple of things keep me going. The first is the knowledge that, even on the frustrating days, I’m blessed to have this job. I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. The second is the emails from readers. Knowing how much people are enjoying the books and the characters makes me want to always improve and to keep putting out books.

JAN: How is your faith reflected in your writing?

EMILY: This is a two-part answer as well. I feel it’s important to be able to provide clean entertainment for people, so my books have no swearing, no gore, and no sex scenes.

Beyond that, I write for the general market, so one of my readers has called my books “stealth evangelism.” I try to show Christians as they truly are, not as the media likes to portray them. I also try to show my Christian characters as people who still have struggles and challenges, but whose faith helps them deal with those.

My main character Nicole in my Maple Syrup Mysteriesstarts out the series as a non-Christian and then comes to faith. Her conversion happens off page, but I show her going to church, trying to understand what this means for her life, and using prayer and memorizing Bible verses to help deal with her anxiety problems.

JAN: What are some things you learned from your own writing?

EMILY: My writing reminds me that each person I meet has their own private story. They have struggles and worries and fears that I know nothing about. I think it’s made me more compassionate to others.

JAN: What is your ultimate writing goal?

EMILY: Continue to grow, continue to be able to do this as a full-time job, and write 100 novels/novellas before I retire. (I’m currently working on number 11 in that last tally if anyone is keeping score.)

JAN: I wish you a long and healthy life! You’ll do it! Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

EMILY: Take your time to get ready before you publish. I thought I was ready to be a published author long before I really was. When I look back now, I’m so grateful that self-publishing wasn’t an easy option because I would have put my writing out there before I was strong enough in the craft or knowledgeable enough about what it takes to run a business.

JAN: Thanks so much for your responses and a peek into your writing life. All the best in your future as you continue to learn, grow and put out great books.

If you want to know more about Emily and her books, go to her website.

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I’m not a movie buff. I don’t watch many movies and my tastes are conservative, but I’ll take this chance to comment on this movie because of the great experience and my interesting ties to it.

I read the novel, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a few years ago, because of the title, so when the movie came out on Netflix, I had to see it.

One of the reasons I first became interested in the book, is the name of the place where it’s set: Guernsey. You see, I live on a farm near a smaller-than-a-hamlet settlement in Saskatchewan named Guernsey. That’s where I pick up my mail. The latest google information on population in my Guernsey is a grand total of…wait for it…88.

The streets in my prairie village mirror some of the island names: St. Peter Street, St. Sampson Street, St. Martin Street, D’lcart Street, Pacific Avenue, Cobo Avenue. That’s about all the streets there are in my Guernsey. I’m hoping that in the future when I’m asked to state my mailing address, people will recognize the name and not call it Gerz-nee, or give me a blank look. I used to say “Guernsey, like the cow,” but most folks these days don’t know anything about cows either.

The setting for this story takes place on the German-occupied Island of Guernsey, in the English Channel, during the second world war.

A young British writer has been corresponding with a Guernsey resident about books and writing, and decides to make a surprise visit to find the story behind the literary society. When she arrives, she has another surprise coming when the people in the society are opposed to her snooping around in their lives. They firmly close her out.

As the story progresses, the writer finds out a few key answers to her many questions and gradually uncovers the whole story.

I love this movie because the characters are well-acted, the story seems true to the book, as much as I remember from several years ago, the setting is convincing, and the mystery of the story fascinates me. I was especially intrigued by the way the hidden facts are revealed piece by piece, like putting together a puzzle.

I will watch this movie again, soon, and maybe even pick up the book for another read.

If you haven’t seen it yet, I recommend you take time to watch it—and read the book—before or after. A truly excellent portrayal of life in a remote occupied zone during WWII, told with integrity and charm.

 

 

 

 

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I met this book on a friend’s book review blog, and it sounded intriguing. I was not disappointed. What’s not to like about a main character with a blank past, vague memories of another world, romance, danger, world travel and even time travel?

One night, a young woman finds herself in a New York museum with no memory of who she is or how she got there. An employee gives her a job researching an ancient civilization, the Minoan culture, and that becomes her life. Kallie is content with her place in the basement office of the museum, until she is thrust into the limelight at a fundraiser. It is there that she meets Dimitri Andreas, a wealthy and handsome benefactor of the museum, whose favor she must seek. Her sales pitch is a disaster, but she meets Dimitri personally, and he seems more interested in her and her research than in her failed speech.

A series of unforeseen incidents bring them together, but they come from different levels of society, and Kallie harbors her secret of a missing past. When she is asked by Dimitri to join a team to Egypt to look for artifacts from the Minoan civilization, she realizes she has a strong affinity for the region. She also comes to see that Dimitri Andreas is also not the person he seems to be. When their desires would pull them together, their secrets keep them apart.

The sequence of events creates plot intensity, the characters are strong figures who seek their true identity with integrity and courage, and even the artifacts they seek are not what they expect. Throw in an antagonist who cares for nothing but the end game, and the intensity increases.

I particularly enjoyed Kallie’s journey of self-discovery, allowing her true character to emerge.

Interesting links:

Book Reviewer Janet Sketchley

Author Tracy Higley

Tracy Higley

 

 

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My walk this morning reminded me of the indie publishing journey I’ve been on for the past few years, as I saw tansy and thistle growing along the fence line.

After much research and many trials, I created Tansy & Thistle Press…faith, fiction, forum. I already had a website, but I wanted to use create my own logo, describing the content of the site and the blog.

The creation of the independent business was a steep learning curve for sure, but I expected the choice of a name to be fairly simple, to think of something that portrayed what I write, and to polish it.

It turned out to be an exercise in frustration, as every name I tried was already used by at least one of the millions of people who have websites. I like the thistle idea, because we have thistles here, but it needed something more. It must have been my husband who suggested tansy, another type of invasive weed that grows heartily in our area. The tansy is yellow, the thistle purple, and I liked the sound of them together: Tansy & Thistle Press.

For the subtitle, I wanted to include fiction, because that is mostly what I write, and my faith always seems to come out in it, whether I plan it or not, which is also what I want to offer. But I also have a blog, and how does that fit in? Again, it was my brilliant husband who suggested the word forum, as a place to discuss faith and fiction and other topics.

I registered the business name and logo January 6, 2016, using the image above that a business on Fiverr created, and have enjoyed using it since. I continue to write, working on the third book in my In Search of Freedom series, and hope to have it available either for Christmas or shortly afterward. If life would stop interrupting, it would be easier, but I am enjoying this summer with family and friends, so at times, the writing is pushed back. But I will pursue it in order to tie up this series with Far Side of the Sea, as soon as possible.

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I love music, always have. As a kid, I imagined I would someday sing beautiful flowery song endings that went on for bars, in a high range. As it turned out, I’m an alto, and a very moderate one at that. And flowery endings have mostly fallen out of fashion, except for opera. Of which I’m not a fan.

I don’t have details or data about the influence of music on the brain, but I can speak from experience. There are pieces of music that create such nostalgia that I can still visualize the event where they were played or sung, the place in the story I was writing. I often have music playing in the background while I write, and even though I, personally, must choose instrumental music that doesn’t steal my concentration, when I hear a particular piece, I still fall into the part of the story where that music was played.

Music not only relaxes or stimulates, depending on style, it also affects the body physically— blood pressure, anxious responses; emotionally—remember the song that played when you met your spouse; mentally—concentration and focus; spiritually—again depending on the genre and style, but consider worship songs that draw you closer to God; psychologically—causing feelings of distress or relief, and everything in between. Music has been used for millennia to stir up feelings of motivation and devotion.

I enjoy instrumental piano music, especially with a contemporary beat. I am also a fan of soft rock (“Call me a relic, call me what you will, say I’m old-fashioned, say I’m over the hill…”), and some of the more trendy trained voices (think Andrea Bocelli or Josh Groban), sometimes blended with rock. I despise country & western, to my husband’s chagrin, and can’t figure out where that aversion began, because I don’t mind the old western songs my dad used to listen to on the record player (Sons of the Pioneers, Wilf Carter). In moderation.

What is your preferred genre of music, and do you listen to it while writing / reading? How does it affect you and what reaction are you looking for? I’d be interested in your feedback. And remember, this is totally personal, no rights or wrongs.

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I’ve visited a couple of local cemeteries recently, because my siblings and I need to choose a memorial marker for our mother. Some people stay as far from graveyards as possible, but I find them restful, at least in broad daylight. The dates and names give wings to my imagination.

Just as the people buried in the churchyard are more than granite engravings, our fictional characters need to be more than life-size cardboard cutouts. The years that lie between birth and death dates are mysteries, untold stories of real people.

One stone marks the life of a wife/mother who died at the age of 22. Why? An accident or illness? What happened to the child? I feel the grief and lay my hand on the stone as I pass.

A large, flat engraving includes details of birthplace, emigration, moves, farm locations, spouse, children. Few are this informative, but it tells the story of an eventful life, well-lived. These details considered important enough to be carved in stone.

Several small graves lie in the shade of the poplars, babies that died at birth or in their early childhood. Stories of unexpected loss and grief.

Ideas come from everywhere, and a cemetery is a tremendous resource. It can also remind us of the fragility of life, the brevity of the time we have to make our mark between two dates.

If you’re looking for writing ideas, inspiration, or perhaps a quiet and meditative walk, visit a cemetery, and remember that:

“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful servants” Psalm 116:15 NIV.

 

 

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JAN: Today, I have the pleasure of introducing a writer from Australia, Narelle Atkins, who I met (virtually) through International Christian Fiction Writers. Thank you, Narelle, for taking time to share about your writing life with me and my readers.

How long have you been writing and how did you come to it?

NARELLE: I’ve always been an avid reader and dreamed about writing and publishing a book. Twenty years ago, I started writing romance fiction. After a long writing apprenticeship, my debut book was published by Harlequin Heartsong Presents in 2014 as part of a six-book contract.

JAN: I suppose that could be exciting and frightening at the same time, to be offered such a deal, but you’ve obviously followed through and done well. What is your preferred genre?

NARELLE: Contemporary Christian Romance.

JAN: Why do you write?

NARELLE: Because I can’t not write, lol. I have characters in my head who won’t go away or shut up until their stories are written!

JAN: An active imagination is a great motivator. How and where do you write? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

NARELLE: I can write a first draft anywhere. I wrote a large portion of Solo Tu, my latest release, using the Notes app on my phone. For the editing stage, I prefer to work at home where I can be left alone to focus on the story. I’m a plotter and I typically start my stories with a robust outline in place. The outline is fluid and I make minor adjustments as I write and learn more about the characters and the story.

JAN: Where do you get your ideas? What inspires you?

NARELLE: Life inspires me. I feed my creativity by being out and about and meeting people.

JAN: What are some of the best methods of promoting your work?

NARELLE: An author newsletter has become an essential way to connect with readers. I also enjoy blogging on my group blogs and connecting with readers there and in the Facebook reader groups.

JAN: What are your favorite / most effective social media?

NARELLE: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are the social media platforms where I spend the most time.

JAN: How do you balance professional time with personal time?

NARELLE: It’s not easy. I have work-a-holic tendencies, and I find it’s always a struggle to balance family, day job, and writing responsibilities.

JAN: How is your faith reflected in your writing?

NARELLE: The faith element is an organic part of my stories. I like exploring the spiritual journey of my characters. This may be subtle or a bit more overt. I personally don’t like reading preachy Christian fiction books, but I do appreciate reading stories with a strong and compelling faith element.

JAN: Yes, it’s a fine line. What is your ultimate writing goal?

NARELLE: To keep learning and growing as a writer.

JAN: Good advice for any of us. What advice would you give a beginning writer?

NARELLE: Take the time to learn your craft and resist the temptation to publish too soon. Don’t give up. Enjoy the journey!

Narelle Atkins

A fun loving Aussie girl at heart, NARELLE ATKINS was born and raised on the beautiful northern beaches in Sydney, Australia. She has settled in Canberra with her husband and children. A lifelong romance reader, she found the perfect genre to write when she discovered inspirational romance. Narelle’s contemporary stories of faith and romance are set in Australia.

How to get in touch with Narelle:

 

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Many years ago, about 1994, in fact, I read Linda Hall’s first novel, The Josiah Files. I loved it, but although I’ve forgotten the story by now, I will never forget the strange and unlikely—so I thought then—technology of characters carrying small handheld devices on which they could communicate and read. I wished with all my heart that I could have a device that carried books and could be accessed anywhere, anytime.

Well, what do you know? Last night I was unable to sleep, so I grabbed my iPhone, and with a few clicks, accessed a novel I couldn’t wait to finish. How the world, even my little world, has changed over the past twenty-four years.

 

 

There are varied responses to these innovations in our world:

  1. Some people conceive the ideas that become new technology
  2. Some people embrace these changes
  3. Some people struggle to keep up with the latest tools/programs
  4. Some people choose to ignore the changes
  5. And some refuse to accept or be involved in using technology

I’m definitely not the first type, nor the second. Nor the fifth. You’ll catch me on #4 and then grudgingly moving up to #3 most of the time. Because I really don’t want to be left behind.

In my writing life, I’ve had to accept some changes. One publisher I worked for expected his authors to learn and use social media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Scribble, Scrabble, Bing Bong, etc. (Please don’t look up those last three.) Whatever was available, we were expected to go with it. I did my best, eventually settling on Facebook and Twitter, with LinkedIn as a more silent partner. I have to say it was good for me. Stretching is a good thing, and although I have always disliked the phrase “getting out of my comfort zone,” it was a necessary and beneficial exercise.

A couple of years ago, I decided to embrace the independent publishing scenario. It took a lot of research, observation, questioning and faith, but I jumped in and still have my head above water. I think. Just this week, I heard more about a company I’d been interested in but didn’t understand: Ingram Spark. After emailing with friends, I decided to give it a whirl for the sake of one of my oft-neglected goals: book distribution. I now have an account and we’ll see where that leads.

There will always be technological obstacles in our lives, personal and professional, and it’s our choice how we respond. But maybe, just maybe, we will be able to benefit from some new technologies or programs. My personal line: “If technology is a car, I’m hanging onto the back bumper by my fingernails. I can’t let go, because I’ll never catch up again.”

Whatever the next obstacle, I’ll deal with it…or ask for help to understand. Because times will continue to change. I hope you will also keep on learning and experimenting.

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